My great grandfather was a famous woodcarver. His name was Gbogunjoko. He was living in Omido, north of Illa, on the way to Esie. When war came he went to Illa. The King asked all the carvers to carve something for the Oro festival, when all the worshippers bring out their images. When the King, who was called Orangun Illa, and whose personal name was Aniyeloye, saw Gbogunjoko’s work, he gave his daughter to be his wife.
(Lamidi Olonade Fakeye as quoted in Yoruba Religious Carving: Pagan & Christian Sculpture in Nigeria & Dahomey by Kevin Carroll S.M.A., 1967)
The above extract is not a Yoruba folktale. It is an account of the dawn of the dynasty of one of Nigeria’s oldest families of artists. The King of Illa (now part of Osun State) on that occasion also gave Gbogunjoko the honorific title of Fakeye. His descendants would subsequently use Fakeye as the family name.
The passing of Olabisi Fakeye, a fifth generation Fakeye, in October 2017 renewed interest in the history and art of this gifted family of woodcarvers. The Fakeyes are known for an intricate and detailed style of carving that is passed down from one generation to the next. But also compelling is their refusal to lose touch with their origin, which earned them considerable attention from scholars at home and abroad. In 1971, an exhibition by the United States Information Service (USIS) titled Three Generations of Fakeye presented works by Lamidi, Olabisi and other members of the family. There have been several other exhibitions by individual members of the dynasty all over Africa, America and Europe.
The Fakeyes’ celebration by the art world would perhaps not have come about if it were not for the aspirations of Lamidi Olonade Fakeye (1928 – 2009). Lamidi’s father, Akobi-Ogun, took up carving against the wishes of Lamidi’s grandfather (son of Gbogunjoko), and also taught his sons to carve. In his late teens, Lamidi, like his grandfather, was not interested in carving as a profession because it was not profitable. Even so, he prided himself on being the best carver around, until he saw the pillars carved by Areogun from Osi Ilorin at the king’s palace at Oro in Ekiti—these pillars were later exhibited at the National Museum, Lagos. This made him long to improve his carving skills. Subsequently, he would serve as an apprentice under the great carver, George Bandele (son of Areogun), for three years.
Lamidi had his first solo exhibition at the British Council in Nigeria in 1960, and accordingly trained the next generation of Fakeye—Akin, Dejo, Olabisi and Abegunde. Akin Fakeye was one of the founding members of Oyo State Woodcarvers Association and his four sons became professional carvers. Olabisi distinguished himself by adding a more contemporary theme to his works and reproducing known woodcarvings in bronze castings.
I have been told that due to the intricate designs of the Fakeyes’ works, pictures don’t do them justice. Fortunately, the renowned Nigerian art patron, Yemisi Shyllon, who has the largest collection of the dynasty’s art, has promised to exhibit some of them at the Yemisi Shyllon Museum at the Pan Atlantic University, Ajah. But until then, here are pictures of some Fakeyes’ sculptures.
FAKEYE AKOBI-OGUN (1870 – 1946)
ADEWUYI FAKEYE (D. 1957)
LAMIDI OLONADE FAKEYE (1928 – 2009)
IBRAHIM AKIN FAKEYE (B. 1936)
OLABISI FAKEYE (1942 – 2017)
LUKMAN FAKEYE (B. 1983)
Lukman is one of the sons of Akin Fakeye, and presently the youngest professional carver in the family.
This article was first published on 20 February 2018 on Artstrings.Africa